UNITED NATIONS INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE IN SUPPORT OF ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN PEACE OPENS IN GENEVA,
HEARS A STATEMENT BY THE UN SECRETARY-GENERAL

Peace is possible – frameworks for a way forward – United Nations Office at Geneva, 29 and 30 June 2016

29 June 2016

(Issued as received) – The United Nations International Conference in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace opened in Geneva on 29 June. At the opening session, participants agreed that peace was indeed possible, and that Israel and the Palestinians should continue to try to negotiate under the aegis of the international community.

FODE SECK, Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, opened the Conference, welcomed the attendees and praised recent multi-lateral initiatives. MICHAEL MØLLER, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, read a statement from the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon. NABEEL SHAATH, Representative of the State of Palestine and Member of the Fatah Central Committee, made a statement on behalf of the President of the State of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas. SAMIR BAKR, Assistant Secretary-General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, commented on reasons for the failure of past initiatives.

The United Nations International Conference in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace opened in the morning of 29 Juneat the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG). It is taking place at a time when momentum for peace between Israel and Palestine is possibly improving, as various multilateral efforts are being made by international actors to create a new climate for negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis. The theme of the Conference is “Peace is possible: frameworks for a way forward”.

As a number of issues emerged during the opening remarks of the conference, most importantly, representatives and participants agreed that peace was indeed possible, and that Israel and the Palestinians should continue to try to negotiate under the aegis of the international community.

Regarding the end goal, almost all representatives and participants supported the necessity of the establishment of a Palestinian State that would exist in peace alongside Israel. The Palestinian State should be established within the pre-1967 borders, enjoy complete sovereignty on its territory, independence and security, and have East Jerusalem as its capital. A few representatives mentioned the possibility of a single State, but one that would be secular and inclusive of all groups existing in the country, regardless of ethnicity, religion, or other considerations.

However, participants noted that there were a number of obstacles to the peace process. Most notably, Israel was continuing to expand settlements in the occupied territories, in spite of the commitments it had made in the Oslo Accords and in other diplomatic venues, and in violation of international law as embodied in various United Nations resolutions. In addition, unilateral actions and policies implemented by Israel, such as the use of violent military action, the imposition of economic and other measures, and the blockade of Gaza were making the two-State solution more distant.

As a result, participants noted, initiatives must be taken to restore hope. Israel must end settlements activity and return to the negotiating table in good faith. It should also refrain from using violent methods against civilians. For their part, Palestinians must cease to incite violence and other activities, such as tunneling from the Gaza strip.

Efforts in various international venues had been on the increase during the last decade. Though the Oslo Accords had not proceeded very far, recent renewed interest in the Arab Peace Initiative as well as the launching of the French Initiative may provide some hope for a re-start of the peace process. Finally, it was noted that civil society organizations had a crucial role in contributing to the process. The engagement of the international community, participants argued, was key to moving ahead.

In the remainder of the Conference, the representatives and participants will examine the successes and failures of past initiatives and attempts to formulate new ways forward, as well as a concrete time frame.

Opening remarks

Mr. Seck opened the Conference and welcomed the attendees. “Peace is possible,” he said, emphasizing that participants were there to assess what had been attempted in the past, debate emerging initiatives, and search for lasting solutions in a new framework.

Mr. Møller read a statement from United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon. “We must never give up hope of negotiating a settlement between Israel and Palestine. All that is lacking is the political will to make that happen,”” he said. He mentioned the various recent initiatives, in particular the Arab Peace Initiative and French Initiative. On his 11th visit to region, the Secretary-General had renewed his message of support for the two-State solution. Israeli settlement activity was illegal and its continual expansion directly threatened the prospects of a viable Palestinian State; he mentioned the examples of Area C and the recent spike in demolitions of Palestinian property, all of which systematically undermined peace prospects and raised concerns regarding the true intentions of the State of Israel. “We must restore faith,” he said. There would be no justice and peace if terrorism continued, which the Palestinian authorities must speak against and take concrete steps to stop. Everyone in the region needed security; Israel must calibrate its military responses in order to avoid harming civilians. For its part, Gaza remained in a deplorable and untenable situation, having endured nine years of blockage, continuing housing and water crises , while economic development prospects had been halted or destroyed.

Hamas, the Secretary-General added, must end tunneling and Egypt should re-open its border with Gaza. Moreover, Palestinians needed to be reunited under one authority. The United Nations, he concluded, were committed to a just and peaceful solution to the conflict, and, he was personally committed to work to advance these efforts until the end of his tenure.

Mr Seck then made a statement. He welcomed the many representatives of Member and Observer States, international organizations and civil society organizations. Since its creation in 1975, he noted, the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People had exerted efforts to advance the inalienable rights of Palestinians, had redoubled its support to immediately end the continuing settlements in the occupied territories, and promoted and supported the two-State solution both to enable Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and to find a just resolution to all outstanding issues. He argued that the almost-60 year-old Israeli occupation was one of the root causes of the chronic instability which engulfed the region, together with related violent extremism and terrorism.

Mr. Seck praised the initiatives of the Quartet (United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations), the recent Ministerial conference in Paris, and the Arab Peace Initiative from 2002. What was clear, he argued, was that the illegal occupation and violence by settlers had to end, as they undermined and contradicted the creation of a viable and integrated Palestinian State. Indiscriminate attacks on Israelis must stop, he said, noting that recently there had been fewer rockets and knife attacks against Israelis, but dangers remained, in particular the possibility of escalating violence in East Jerusalem and Gaza, which nine years of sanctions had rendered economically and environmentally unsustainable. While some imports of cement represented positive signs, such measures were insufficient. Donors, he emphasized, must renew and fulfill pledges for Gaza. He also called for Palestinian reconciliation and the creation of a functional unified Government. He reiterated that the Palestinian State should be independent, sovereign, and secure; within pre-1967 borders; and exist in peace alongside the State of Israel. The parameters for a final settlement, he concluded, were known for a long time and the international community needed to push both parties to end the conflict.

Mr. Shaath then made a statement on behalf of the President of the State of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas.

Peace was possible, he noted, adding that the United Nations Secretary-General was in the region today and had seen the Gaza tragedy with his own eyes. It was, he said, horrifying, adding that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) had recently released a report assessing that in 2020 Gaza would be unfit for human habitation and survival – water, other resources, the economy, all were in a precipitous decline.

Peace was, he argued, was impossible without sustained efforts by the international community. The role of the United Nations was crucial. Israel, he believed, was not committed to peace on the basis of two States. Israel, he said, should decide: did it want a one-State solution, with both peoples living in the same land and enjoying equal rights? If not, it was necessary to establish two States based on pre-1967 borders. The current situation consisting of one State occupying and controlling the other by unilateral military means was untenable. The international community, he said, needed to pressure Israel into negotiating, as had been the case in apartheid South Africa

Israel had been making agreements with all its neighbors based on the concept of land for peace– except in the case of Palestine. For Palestinians, he said, the formula had been peace in exchange for limited self-rule. Even with Yitzhak Rabin, he believed, Palestinians had been marginalized and pushed out. Even 23 years after the Oslo Agreement, with significant US engagement, no independent State of Palestine had emerged. At the same time, occupation and settlements had only expanded: in 1979, there had been only 20,000 settlers; in 1993, there had been 160,000 settlers. Today, there were 680,000 – i.e. settlements had quadrupled. Some 92 per cent of water in the West Bank went to settlers, the rest to Palestinians. You could not, he argued, achieve peace if that continued.

Nonetheless, the Palestinian leadership remained hopeful and made efforts to advance peace prospects. The early 1990s spirit, he hoped, could return, but now all hope lay in the international community. He supported the French Initiative and hoped Europe, Russia, and China would support it. The comparison with the Iran talks was instructive, he noted. In the case of Iran, the negotiation had been international with the involvement of many States; there had been clear references to international law, efforts had been made to implement the agreement, and sanctions had played a big role when lifted. By contrast, none of those practices had been applied to Israel. The United States was an ineffective and not impartial broker, and had failed to pressure Israel sufficiently. More pressure needed to be applied.

Mr. Bakr said that the failure of the initiative was due to lack of commitment, procrastination in favor of the status quo, racist policies, and unilateral actions by the state of Israel. A lack of an end game and no deadlines had contributed to the failure. What the Palestinian people endured was a tragedy.

Statements

The Maldives reiterated that the Palestinian State should be independent, sovereign, and secure; within pre-1967 borders; and exist in peace alongside the State of Israel. Both parties to the conflict needed to be pushed, though Israel bore most of the responsibility. The Maldives called for justice and peace for Palestinians.

The Holy See stated that the Vatican supported the notion of a Palestinian State as independent, sovereign, and secure; within pre-1967 borders; and existing in peace alongside the State of Israel. There was a lack of substantive negotiations, spiraling violence, indicating an intractable problem. The Pope had reiterated his message in Bethlehem, saying that courage was needed to achieve peace. He supported civil society initiatives.

Turkey also reiterated that the Palestinian State should be independent, sovereign, and secure. No justification, he argued, could deprive Palestinians of their rights. Turkey, he noted, was progressively disbursing $200 million to support the Palestinian people.

Cuba
 added that peace required solidarity and cooperation, international assistance and the recognition of the Palestinian State. It reiterated that the Palestinian State should be independent, sovereign, and secure; and exist within pre-1967 borders.

Thailand
 reiterated that no justification should deprive Palestinians of their rights. It supported both bilateral and multi-lateral efforts to make Palestine a viable, secure and democratic State.

The United Arab Emirates condemned the Israeli occupation: property was still being seized, with the intention of expelling Palestinians from their land. It was a war machine of aggression, and illegality. Unfortunately, no action was being taken by the international community. Donor states must increase funding in order to rebuild the Palestinian State.

Qatar
 argued that the situation of Palestinians was an issue of concern to the whole international community, a colonial legacy, and not just a Muslim concern. It was a 68-year drama.

Indonesia
 reiterated that the status quo was unacceptable and that a solution should be comprehensive and just, and be based on the initiatives of the French, Arabs, and others in compliance with United Nations resolutions.

Sudan
 also supported the creation of a Palestinian State that should be independent, sovereign, and secure; within pre-1967 borders; and exist in peace alongside the State of Israel.

Zimbabwe
 said the two-State solution was the only viable solution for a sustainable peace. In 2014, all progress towards peace had stopped and violence had escalated. Israel must halt settlements, and its actions to cut off Palestinian villages from their neighbors must cease.

Mali
 aligned itself with previous statements. Suffering in occupied areas must come to an end, people needed to live decently and in dignity. It called upon the international community to create a conducive atmosphere for negotiations to those ends.

Oman
 reaffirmed the need for peace, with a comprehensive end to the occupation in accordance with the Arab initiative and other initiatives. It was the duty of all to uphold the legitimacy of the peace process, and to establish the pillars of the process, in order to create a Palestinian State.

Jordan
 stated that the ongoing deadlock was causing despair and feeding extremism. The process needed reasonable direction and timed negotiations. Jordan was a key regional stakeholder. Refugee issues needed to be addressed. UN resolutions needed to be respected. Success required an end to unilateral methods, destructive incursions and other detrimental actions.

Malta
 recognized the stalemate of the situation regarding the creation of the State of Palestine. There were signs of a positive momentum, parameters and target dates needed to be created and imposed. Settlements by Israel did not help. Gaza remained a deep concern, in dire condition.

Lebanon
 noted that Arabs were open to peace but Israel was destroying peace prospects with its aggression. Now, blockades and military action were the order of the day. The international community must bring pressure on Israel to re-enter negotiations in good faith. Lebanon reiterated that the status quo was unacceptable.

South Africa
 said that its own experience was instructive. It had overcome racism, entered into sustainable development with respect to human dignity and achieved other accomplishments. Those prove that the situation in Palestine could improve.

Pakistan,
 speaking on behalf of members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) expressed solidarity with the Palestinians and emphasized that the occupation of their territories needed to end.
Nicaragua
 stated that the country’s solidarity with the Palestinians was unchanged and called for an end to Israeli occupation. It called for an end to the settlement process.

Somalia
 spoke of the need to create a Palestinian State. It expressed continued solidarity with the Palestinian people and stated that Somalia stood side by side with them.

Venezuela
 stated that Israel needed to vacate the occupied territories and expressed solidarity with the Palestinians, who needed to live with dignity, freedom, and economic security.

China
 expressed continuing support for the cause of the Palestinian State, which should be independent, sovereign, and secure. It concluded by mentioning that government would pledge 50 million Yuan for the purposes of reconstruction and economic development. China was a full partner in the peace process in the Middle East.

Malaysia
 condemned the impunity with which Israel acted towards the Palestinians, as it enabled Israel to treat the Palestinians in any manner that it chose. Basic rights were being denied, and Palestine needed the right to self-determination to escape the situation. Malaysia commended France for its new multi-lateral initiative.

Ecuador
 reiterated that the Palestinian State should be independent, sovereign, and secure; within pre-1967 borders; and exist in peace alongside the State of Israel.

Libya
 mentioned its longstanding solidarity with the Palestinians and called for an end to Israeli occupation.

Kuwait
 pledged continuing support for the Palestinian cause, condemning Israel for its illegal occupation and for continuously increasing settlements.

Iraq
 emphasized that Israel’s nuclear arsenal served as its license to behave as it pleased in the region. It emphasized that freedom and sovereignty belonged to the Palestinians, and that it was unlikely that Israel would offer them as a gift. Iraq concluded by expressing solidarity with the Palestinians.

Tunisia
 emphasized that the Palestinian cause must be the center of efforts for peace in the region, which should take the form of a negotiation.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) called for a complete withdrawal from occupied areas. It stated that the Palestinian State should be able to exist in peace alongside the State of Israel.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) described the cost of conflict as tragic and high. The organization had been a permanent presence in Palestine since 1967. While the humanitarian role of the ICRC was unchanged, it needed help from political actors to create hope for the people of the region.

The Secretary General of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) stated that the organization was working in the region on a wide array of issues, including radiocommunication, telecommunication standardization and telecommunication development. In particular, ITU organized the World Radiocommunication Conference on spectrum-related issues, welcoming the bilateral agreement on principles for assigning new frequencies for Palestinian mobile operators. ITU had helped in the process of concluding this bilateral agreement between Israel and Palestine to allow assigning new frequencies for 3rd generation mobile technologies, initiating a dialogue that was making progress and in which both sides participated. Thanks to the good will and spirit of cooperation shown by stakeholders, the ITU Secretary General is optimistic that the implementation of new mobile technologies in Palestine in 2016 could be achieved, though important elements remain to be further negotiated.

For use of the information media; not an official record

M16/007E

* * *